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Soil improvement, where to start?

(6 Posts)
VermicularCanister Mon 24-Jun-13 13:08:10

We have recently had some work done on our garden, and have a new raised bed and some borders filled with topsoil that was brought in by the landscapers. I planted a few things in the raised bed (courgettes and butternut squashes), and after three weeks of them failing dismally to grow, I have had a lightbulb moment: the soil needs to be improved.

I have seen so many threads mentioning soil improvement, but up to now I've given it about as much attention as pelvic floor exercises. I spent several years gardening in containers on a balcony, and have now moved to a house previously owned by keen gardeners, so I have inherited their efforts. So this is the first time it has occurred to me that I need to do something about it myself.

Can anyone help me to get this right? Do I need a soil testing kit, or is the problem so basic that testing wouldn't be useful at this stage? The soil feels sandy and doesn't have crumbs as such. It makes a kind of dense sandy slurry when it's really wet, and is lighter in colour than the rest of the garden.

I have tracked down a source of rotted manure. Is it possible to add too much? And is there anything else I could usefully add at the same time? If I do that this week, can I expect the butternuts/courgettes to go back in and thrive immediately, or will it need time/more treatment?

I don't have immediate plans to plant stuff in the borders around the lawn, so I was thinking of just putting manure on top of those for now, and letting the worms mix it in. Is there anything else I could/should add? Bark chippings on top to keep the weeds down?

Thanks in advance for any help!

JustinBsMum Mon 24-Jun-13 13:14:11

Is the new soil nice and darky and loamy, a bit sticky when wet. Or is it sandy and pale. I was disappointed with my topsoil which was like the latter, and it also had a lot of weed seeds in it, but putting well rotted manure has made a huge difference. If it's well rotted it will be a bit like a crumbly mulch so I would dig some in and put some on as a mulch. It is easier to weed if the top layer is soft and crumbly and it will suppress some weeds and make it crumbly and easier to hoe. I don't think you can add too much but make sure it is good stuff and that you know others who use it. There was a risk of some manure getting traces of weedkiller in it a year or so ago, which takes a few years to leach away.

purplewithred Mon 24-Jun-13 13:14:45

Get hold of the rotted manure and add loads, literally inches if you can. At the same time if you are planting things you could add in a general fertiliser like gromore or chicken pellets. Then you can plant straight in, put in more manure in the planting hole of your courgettes and squash.

Start a compost bin. Two compost bins actually.

If you dont plant up your new borders they will fill with weeds. Deffo the well rotted manure on top asap, you can leave it for the worms but your rubbish soil won't have much in the way of worms. On the other hand planting things in it will mix in the manure. I'd forget the bark chippings and hope the manure keeps the weeds down and just hoe if it doesn't but I'd be planting it up pronto anyway!

VermicularCanister Tue 25-Jun-13 12:50:43

The soil is definitely on the pale/sandy side - sounds similar to yours, JustinBsMum. A load of manure has arrived today, but sadly I'm at work and won't be home until this evening. I'm impatient to get digging before the poor malnourished plants turn their toes up!

I'm checking out the offers on compost bins from our county council too.

Thanks both for the helpful tips.

RoseFlowerFairy Sun 30-Jun-13 12:23:22

You can put weed suppressant membrane down over the manure, then take it up when you are ready to plant.

TheNoodlesIncident Sun 30-Jun-13 23:11:09

Vermicular, I expect you've got stuck in with the rotted manure by now.

Another thing which might help: if you or your neighbours have a few trees around your garden, I would also recommend you save a place by the compost heap for a leafmould pile. Although leafmould doesn't have any nutritional value for plants, it's great for adding organic matter to the soil, which your soil sounds like it's lacking.

The best thing is it's something you would usually tidy up anyway, and it doesn't cost you anything. It's definitely worth the amount of effort you would put in raking up leaves.

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